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QueensLine: 1,000 WWI draftees from LIC march in Manhattan

On Sept. 4, 1917, nearly a thousand young men from Long Island City took part in a draft parade along Fifth Avenue in Manhattan. These men were Long Island City’s first quota to make up the “first army of 500,000.”

As they passed the reviewing stand at 42nd Street, a long cheer broke out from those in the stands. Among those who were applauding were Gen. George R. Dyer; Alton B. Parker, the Democratic presidential candidate in 1904; and city officials. At the head of the local contingent walked the exemption board workers — the men whose toil resulted in the certifying of the most fit for Uncle Sam’s service. Thousands lined the parade route from Washington Square to 50th Street. The cheering crowds on each block contained many Queens residents.

That same day, 600-odd draftees from draft districts in Maspeth, Woodside, Corona, Elmhurst, Forest Hills and Winfield marched in Newtown. At the end of the march, Congressman Charles Pope Caldwell spoke briefly to an immense audience that had gathered for the event. He predicted that “the 500,000 men going to France now will be only a drop in the bucket compared to the number that will actually set forth on this mission to free the world from autocracy.”

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On Sept. 13, 1917, Long Island City’s campaign to recruit 15,000 members for the Red Cross was launched at a mass meeting in the Queens County Courthouse. The speaker of the evening was G.O. Tamblyn, director of the membership extension of the Atlantic division of the American Red Cross, who explained: “When the war broke out, the membership in the Red Cross in the United States was 24,000. When the United States entered the war, there were 100,000. At the present moment, the American Red Cross can claim a membership of 4 million. Since the Red Cross has become a clearing house for relief work for the Army and Navy, it has become a man’s organization as well as a woman’s.”

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In a 1917 article in Queensborough, the monthly publication of the Queens Chamber of Commerce, industrial and real estate activities in Queens had been greatly stimulated by the demands on the many factories in the borough as a result of the war. Among 35 Queens factories contributing to the war effort were Ford Motor Co., American Hard Rubber Co., Loose-Wiles Biscuit Co. and Neptune Meter Works.

In a note to Draft Board 176, Frederick Emens of Beechhurst gave some pointers for those draftees going to Camp Upton in Yaphank, L.I.: “For those who follow, it may be of interest that it will probably be at least a week before shoes and uniforms are given the men and that consequently it would be best to wear the most comfortable shoes one has; also a flannel shirt or jersey is better than a white shirt.

“We have no lockers, so I suggest that the men’s things be carried in a pasteboard box or a tin bread box that can be used after the camp is reached, rather than just a paper bundle. A big nail brush to scrub clothes with when washing them is handy, as is a clothes brush, for it is very dusty here. A small mirror is another necessary item. There are stores here where such things can be bought by those who have not gotten them already.”

For more information, call the Greater Astoria Historical Society at 718-278-0700 or visit astorialic.org.

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